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grad school dilemna

pg plasticgreen at hotmail.com
Tue Sep 10 03:48:10 EST 2002

Sorry for the big cross-post. 

   I have a question for those of you who are members of grad school
admissions committees. I am interested in applying to a grad school
program in molecular biology at an American university. My ambition is
complicated by the fact that I'm a grad school dropout. It may be a
trivial issue, but at this point I am most worried about my essay. I
know that the best essay I can write will be one that discusses that
which the admissions committee is most interested in knowing about me
and provides an impression about my motivations for wanting to attend
grad school. I also expect that the primary thing an admissions
committee would want to know about me is the reason why I dropped out
of grad school before.

   I was only a mediocre undergrad but I managed to get accepted to a
top-level PhD program. At first I was getting along great and doing
well. After finishing the first year, I acquired a drug addiction,
primarily methamphetamine. The usual story of distorted judgment,
alienation, paranoia, rationalizations, antisocial acts and behaviors
followed. I'm fairly sure that everyone around me at the time had an
idea what my trouble was but that really didn't make much difference. 
The drug addiction also of course realigned all my goals and values. I
decided to drop out after finishing all the requisite classes but hung
around for another semester in an utter depression doing nothing and
purposely failing my last research credits and my qualifying exam. 
Needless to say, I won't be getting any letters of recommendation from
anyone there.

   So now here I am some years later, a recovered drug addict. I've
done a great job of cleaning up my act and have been engaged in and
published some great research in the private sector.  With the
separation of drugs from my life, my values, goals and ambitions have
essentially reverted to what they once were before drugs, and thus my
interest in getting back into grad school to get that PhD. However I
have some fears that I may have jeopardized these goals permanently.
The main thing an admissions committee is going to want to know about
me is why I dropped out at all. On the one hand I feel the honest
answer is the best one.  Most of you are fairly good at spotting
insincerity. I know that it would reflect negatively on me if you
didn't feel like you were being given a straight answer. On the other
I'm very afraid that I may sabotage my chances of admission by being
honest because of the false assumptions often made about the character
of people who have abused drugs. I'm also afraid that if I document my
reasons behind dropping out of grad school in an essay it could one
day be used as a written confession of criminal activity (despite the
confidentiality of academic records) potentially barring me from
future federal grants or employment.

I'm leaning towards the route of just being honest and taking the
risks associated with it but I wanted to get some feedback from a
forum like this before I went ahead with this idea.

Any advice is welcomed.  Particularly from anyone who has read the
grad school essay of someone confessing similar issues as mine.  I
expect I'm not the only person who's been through a situation like

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